There was never a doubt among coaches and players that Nate Hershey has been a contributing member of Lampeter-Strasburg's football team.

Affectionately known as "coach," the senior has worn many hats in his five years with the Pioneers: manager, athletic trainer, practice kicker and referee.

And Friday night, Hershey was - for the first time - officially part of the game during Lampeter-Strasburg's final home game and senior night.

Hershey, who has Down syndrome, would kick off against Conestoga Valley.

"He may look small, but he has the largest heart for L-S football," senior night announcer Don Frank said as Hershey's name was announced during pregame ceremonies.

Soon afterward, Hershey took the field in a spotless blue uniform.

"Kicking off for the Pioneers, No. 12, Nate Hershey," game announcer Ben Krothe said to cheers.

Hershey raised his right arm, brought it down and charged the ball, connecting and sending it bounding downfield, where the Buckskins' Brendon Martin scooped it up.

Martin didn't return the ball far, as the 5-foot-4-inch 128-pound Hershey rushed in on the tackle.

The crowd roared again.

Hershey ran off the field, hugged head coach John Manion and teammate and fellow senior Sean Harris. He then went to the stands where he shared hand slaps with a half-dozen little kids.

He then bounded up into the stands and into a sea of Halloween-costumed classmates for some celebrating.

Harris, who was using crutches because he tore his ACL, was happy for Hershey.

"It was really great to see him get a dream of his," Harris said. "He's just as much a part of the team as any of us. I was just real happy for him."

When Hershey came out of the stands, he joined his teammates on the sideline.

Things had gone as he wanted, he said.

"Kicked it hard … hit number 10," he said. Early in the first quarter, he was hoping for a win.

"Get out there, win here. Last home game here," he said excitedly.

And win his team would, defeating Conestoga Valley 42-21. Hershey's parents, Ted and Diana, were proud of their son and appreciative of the school.

"Inclusion was what they preached to us when Nate was really little. Nathan should be included in regular activities, go to a regular school," Ted Hershey said before the game.

Nate had joined the team after his speech therapist and football assistant coach, Victor Ridenour and Manion, discussed the idea, knowing how much he loved sports.

"It means a lot for us that the football program included him," Ted Hershey said. "And he feels part of the team. That can't be faked. He really feels part of the team."

Manion said giving Nate the chance to kick made sense, given his familiarity with kicking during practice - and his slight size.

"He does so much for us. We were looking to do something special for him," Manion said. "He's such a wonderful young man. Everyone who knows him loves him."

After Nate's kick, as she watched the game in the stands with Nate's grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends, Diana Hershey beamed.

"It was just wonderful to see him do something he absolutely loves to do," she said.

Her son knew he would play and had practiced kicking on Thursday, she said.

During the game, Scott Rimmer, an assistant high school principal, snapped a picture of Hershey posing with his helmet.

"Tonight, my purpose in being here, quite frankly, was for him," Rimmer said.

"This is something he'll never forget," he said. Nor, he said, would anyone else at the game.

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